Archive for the ‘Humor’ Category

Service of Laughter, a Salve for the Soul

Monday, November 20th, 2023

Image by Eva Michálková from Pixabay

I saved sharing highlights of this October interview on Scott Simon’s NPR show, “Weekend Edition Saturday,” to enhance moods for Thanksgiving week.

Simon interviewed the Keegans—Michael and Elle—about their book, “The History of Sketch Comedy.” Michael defined comedy as “salve for the soul” and “this thing is so silly it could be called ‘I can’t believe you went there.’”

How far is “there?” Could Mel Brooks have made “Blazing Saddles” today? No. Brooks told the authors that he couldn’t have made it in 1974 either but according to his contract he got final cut. Had cuts been up to the studio, it would have been a very different movie.

Comedy must be funny and uplift. Elle asked is it coming from joy or do you laugh because you are uncomfortable?

I learned what is meant by a blackout gag. According to the Keegans, “The blackout is a 30 second joke to keep an audience on their toes.” And Google defined “the gag [as] a kind of joke in broad, rapid-fire slapstick comedy. The term is derived from burlesque and vaudeville, when the lights were quickly turned off after the punchline of a joke to accentuate it and encourage audience laughter.”

Some examples:

Jack Benny’s iconic response to “Your money or your life” was “I’m thinking it over.” The authors said that the gag was a product of a made-up feud between Jack and his friend comedian Fred Allen.

A similar faux feud today is between Jimmy Kimmel who has made a “thing” of repeating apologies at the end of his shows saying that he’s run out of time so Matt Damon will be on another night.

Here’s a blackout gag by George Burns and Gracie Allen:

George: How do you like kissing?

Gracie: I don’t

George: Hugging?

Gracie: Nope

George: What do you like?

Gracie: Lamb chops

George: Do you like eating them alone?

Gracie: “No”

George: What do you like with them?

Gracie: Mashed potatoes.

What makes a bit fall flat? “Lack of commitment. If a person stays at the same level and they don’t explore the concept they are talking about–it doesn’t go anywhere–you don’t get more laughs.” And if the setup is too long, the gag better be good. Also, the authors said, “comedy jail is different from pun jail.”

Who are your favorite comedians? What are some of your favorite blackout gags made by friends or professionals?

Service of Foreign Customs that Make Me Smile: Paris Trip IV and a Half

Monday, June 26th, 2023

Ask an agent to lend you an umbrella–this sticker on the attendant’s booth at my stop in the Paris metro.

It’s fun to recognize different customs from one country to another and to chuckle at characteristic humor, when you see it.

Sculptor Yayoi Kusama across the street from Louis Vuitton.

In Vino Veritas

To prove what I thought I knew, my question to Google was “what percentage of a restaurant’s profit comes from the sale of alcoholic beverages?” The response: “The average revenue that comes with selling alcohol is 20 to 25 percent of restaurant income, but it can become much higher.” That’s here.

When three nights in a row at different restaurants in Paris the same thing happened, I wondered if the servers were worried about my health or what. I’d finish my glass of wine, still eating the main course, and nobody asked if I wanted another. This would never happen in NYC. Too much money is involved.

History of hair exhibit at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs

I asked the helpful young Parisians who worked at my hotel what was going on. They explained that as a waiter’s tip is not impacted by the total bill as it is in the States, they had no incentive to increase the sale by offering more wine. It’s one more thing to do so why bother. “If you want more, ask for it,” was their obvious suggestion. Duh on me.

History of Hair exhibit at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Woof!

Was I in Puritan Paris or New England?

My French father was very strict compared to American dads. I nicknamed him the “puritan Parisian” much to my American mother’s amusement.

I thought of this when I was flabbergasted by a sign on the door of a grocery store that said no alcohol sold after 5 p.m. Was I in puritan New England or a US state with tough liquor laws? The purpose, the clerk explained, was to avoid liquor-fueled arguments.

Sticker on metro doors. Go Bugs B!

Wondering about the dinner guest who expected to pop in to buy a bottle after work on the way to a party I was told that this was the case only in some neighborhoods.

Rainy Weather

I enjoyed blue skies during my 10-day visit but a notice on a metro attendant’s window caught my eye. It offered a loan of an umbrella! I can’t imagine a program like that working in NYC.

I liked how the metro authority pulled in Bugs Bunny to warn passengers about getting fingers pinched if they put their hands on the doors.

Luxury Polka Dots

High end fabric designer’s window displaying a range of textiles.

The collaboration of sculptor Yayoi Kusama and Louis Vuitton impacted the luxury brand’s Christmas windows in New York and an LV store in Paris. Her trademark polka dots decorated the outside of the building as well as her dress on the humongous sculpture of her across the street.

Hairy Subjects

British designer Paul Smith’s artful displays of the artist’s work at the Picasso Museum made me smile. This room was covered in white plates to contrast with Picasso’s.

One of the exhibits at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs was “Des Cheveux & Des Poils.” It featured hairstyles over the centuries. A fun video showed a hairstylist creating an 18th century Marie Antoinette style concoction from scratch on a very patient model. There were plenty of reasons to guffaw throughout the exhibit. Note the dachshund style in photo above.

Fabulous Fabric Birds

I loved the way a fabric designer displayed his textiles by creating a flock of birds sporting them. The windows weren’t funny but they made me smile.

When traveling—even to a different US state—have you noticed customs different from yours or humor that seemed typical of where you were?

No alcohol sales after 5 pm–hard liquor, beer or wine–in the window of a Paris grocery store.

Service of Little Things Mean A Lot III

Monday, July 25th, 2022

Farmer’s market summer flowers

The nicest thing about this post is how quickly I whipped together this preliminary list. So many little things bring smiles. The first two columns of this title took place early in the pandemic and covered how friends helped others.

A gift from a friend

Here’s today’s list in no special order as all are equally meaningful:

How are you? Image by ijmaki from Pixabay 

Red velvet cake. Image by MartinL21 from Pixabay
  • I ordered a slice of velvet cake with meringue icing at Amy’s Bread, didn’t finish it at lunch and enjoyed a few bites of the leftover the next two days. The cake was the best of a memorable taste sensation, one I’ve not enjoyed in 10 dogs ages. Sweet!
  • I had a food delivery the other day, something I’d only done once before in three years because I pick up takeout. The doorman, in announcing the delivery on the intercom, asked if it was legit. He said “You don’t often order food deliveries.” You’re thinking: “Big deal.” It is: There are 510 apartments here! I thanked him later telling him I felt his attention to my habits made me feel as though I lived in a building on Fifth Avenue. His smile made me as happy as his oversight.
  • I walk on a cloud if a bus driver sees me running and waits.
  • When out of town friends let me know they’re coming to town its a treat to see them.
  • “How are you?” texts or emails from former Baruch mentees and great nieces are heart-warming.
  • When Friday evening comes and I watch “A Place to Call Home,” an Australian soap, on WLIW at 8 PM, it’s fun. Same with Grantchester on PBS on Sunday at 9 PM.
  • A text from friends from a hospital recovery room to let me know they are OK or an email that a medical checkup went well causes joy.
  • Something that makes me laugh so hard I cry reminds me of times my mother, my husband and I could hardly breath. It still happens with a few friends, when reading a great line in a book, seeing a ridiculous comment on Facebook or when my funny bone reacts to a segment in a movie or TV series.
  • I love receiving a stunning greeting card out of the blue. I enjoy the images for weeks. I display them on a chest in my living room. Photo below.
  • “Whooo hooo” I holler, even after these many years, when I get an editorial placement for a client.
  • When yet another person pays a compliment to me for my Kusama tote bag–last year’s birthday gift from a friend– it’s a hoot. I’ve written previously about this conversation starter. It happened again just last week.
  • A friend from school reached out after decades and decades–a nice surprise.
  • Summer flowers from the farmer’s market are fabulous. Photo top center.
  • A friend found an out-of-print book, unavailable in my public e-book library, with exorbitant price tags on the secondhand market. She gave it to me when we had lunch at Amy’s Bread where I devoured that divine velvet cake. Photo top right.

What little things have made you happy lately?

Surprise card featuring a favorite flower

Service of the Similar Reaction to Temper and Humor

Thursday, October 1st, 2020

I know about temper. Mine is the worst. Batten down the hatches when I blow up. Nothing funny about me.

I think reactions to some humor and temper are similar in their disparity. The way the same words and tone are interpreted in a range of ways–as nasty by some, humorous by others–works for both comedy and anger.

In vintage slapstick movies, when a character slips on a banana peel, I wonder, “Did he hurt himself?” I never chuckle while many think such scenes are hilarious.

Does anyone remember the 1980s Broadway audience participation smash comedy in which the actors ridiculed participants mostly for things they couldn’t change? I don’t recall its title. The audience doubled over as I sat stone-faced when actors ridiculed an older man sitting next to an attractive much younger woman. They brought on stage the nerdiest looking short man to stand by one of the actresses, a 6-foot beauty and kept returning to a bald man in the audience to make a hat slip off his head [and bald pates were not in fashion]. Sidesplitting for most but not for me.

The day after the presidential debate Michael Riedel and newsman Joe Bartlett, on WOR Radio’s Len Berman and Michael Riedel in the Morning, thought what the president had said was “funny.” I love to laugh but I reacted to his barbs, fierce faces, incessant, uncontrolled interruptions by pacing my bedroom and shaking in dread. I felt no connection to the laughter they mustered while producing sound bytes of his performance.

A friend worked for a man who terrified the office by screaming at his employees. She said she’d freeze at her desk when she heard him even though the verbal arrows, at top volume, weren’t directed at her and never had been. I suspect the man thought he was garnering respect. Maybe this is what the president had in mind.

Sometimes when an angry person feels cornered, outmatched or out of control, he’ll say things he doesn’t mean, that make little sense, are not true and are uttered only to hurt. Has anyone ever said to you, “I was just joking” after such an encounter?

The inspiration for humor that makes fun of others–especially about physical things they cannot change such as age, height and lack of comeliness–may be different from what sparks anger but the impact strikes viewers/listeners in two ways: they think the words are funny or not.

Do you see a resemblance between people’s contrasting reactions to temper and some humor? Have you found words of an angry person funny? Is mocking a person’s physical deficiencies or trip-ups a source of amusement for you?

Service of Time and Place: Is Something Still Funny with Kids in the Picture?

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

Todd Schnitt, co-host with Len Berman of the morning drive show on WOR 710 radio in NYC, deplored the slogan on a tee shirt that a young woman wore on the plane he, his wife and two kids were boarding recently. It promoted the F-word within a snarky comment. He was irritated that his kids had to see it.

He’d wished the crew had asked the woman to either wear her shirt inside out or buy another one at an airport shop as he’d read that other flight attendants had done the same. He also mentioned women boarding commercial flights in ridiculous décolleté who have been told either to cover up or leave.

Schnitt is no prude: He isn’t afraid of the racy story. He seems obsessed with Anthony Weiner and others caught in twisted situations of a perverted sexual nature. He reminds those who object—usually women–that his audience is young to middling-aged men.

A day later an out of town friend told me that he was choosing some chocolate cupcakes for a five year old from a bakery often filled with kids buying treats. [He’d forgotten to recognize the child’s birthday and was seeing his dad and wanted a surprise at the ready.] “We call those Prozac cupcakes,” said the counterman. 

This friend doesn’t shock easily either, and even though he knew the baker picked what she thought was a clever name in an attempt at humor—as in desserts named “death by chocolate”–he wondered whether his choice was right for a chocolate-loving child and about the appropriateness of the name in the first place.

Do you think Todd and my friend are being prissy? Have we lost our compasses as to what’s funny–when–and in what context?

Service of Birthday Cards

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

I haven’t been to a card shop in a while because I buy a lot of greeting cards at Trader Joe. I like the illustrations of the artists they select, the sentiments as well—many make me smile–and the paper quality is excellent. Further, you can’t beat the price: $.99.

In addition, thanks to a wonderful present from my friend Erica Martell, I have a subscription to These e-cards are fabulous.

On a recent visit to a traditional card shop with a large selection I had to pull out and read too many before finding one I could buy. I was flabbergasted by the number that celebrated how great it is to drink too much on your birthday. Is drunkenness funny? [They were in the “funny card” section.] I mentioned this to colleague David Reich and he observed that eating too much is also touted on cards. Another bunch were written for adult first graders: They peddled scatological noises.

Maybe the cold weather has frozen my sense of humor. I love receiving and giving witty cards. I’ve found some amusing ones at stratospheric prices–$6-$8/each–without a birthday greeting that I have adapted for the purpose. I also use note cards bought at museums, but they aren’t funny, just pretty. The New Yorker cartoon cards, [photo left and below], when you can find them, are super. They are blank inside so like museum note cards, not strictly for birthdays.

None of the birthday cards at the large store evoked even half a ha. Have you noticed this about the current crop of popularly priced choices? Does nobody mail them anymore? I like to display the ones people send me or my husband. They make me happy long after the occasion is over. And you?

Service of Humor II

Thursday, August 9th, 2012


I heard Carmen Lynch [above] at Carolines on Broadway a few weeks ago. I thought hers was the best standup of four we heard at this year’s New York Women in Communications Foundation “Ladies Who Laugh!” fundraiser at one of the city’s best comedy clubs. I don’t know any comedians. What a treat that she agreed to answer some questions!

I was intrigued by a comedian who writes and performs material for her sets in Spain, where her mother’s from, as well as for US audiences, and for tough New York City ears, where she’s headquartered, as well as Virginia viewers, where she’s from, and other places too. My father was French and there were times we didn’t “get” each other’s humor.  I might be doubled over in giggles and he’d stare at me without a smile, which would make me laugh even more [and annoy him].  Conversely, he’d be struck by something that went right over my head.

Not to get too serious, performers, writers,  agency and sales people will recognize her challenges and appreciate her approach and reactions. If you give presentations, check out her discussion of performing for audiences who stare back.

What kind of humor would an American audience find funny that a Spanish one wouldn’t? (Or vice versa).

This is a great question but there’s no easy answer. When I did a comedy tour in Spain this past February, I was pretty happy (and a little surprised) that most of my jokes, after translating them into Spanish, worked. I was worried that I’d lose the joke in the translation, or that they just wouldn’t get me.

But most did work, and as expected, some didn’t. I do a joke about calling my sponsored child in Bolivia “my daughter” (that’s not the entire joke but that’s the gist of it) and it never got a strong laugh. I tried it in a few different cities in Spain and it wasn’t going anywhere so I dropped it.

But you learn that it’s nothing personal. I didn’t notice nearly as much sarcasm in comedy out there as we have here, either. So the “simpler” jokes (for lack of a better word) worked best.

The stand-up scene in Spain is much newer than it is here in the US. We have so many comedians here and comedy has been around for so long that jokes here just feel a little more specific. We have to push a little harder with our humor to be noticed.

Are there some topics that would tickle both American and Spanish funny bones?

carmenlynchperformI think universal topics work anywhere, like dating, having kids, recently married, etc. Also, if you have a particular attribute that the audience can see (being tall, balding, bright red hair) then most audiences will probably relate to you in some way, even if they don’t have that exact attribute.

What about Virginia vs. NYC audiences?

Comedy is different everywhere – not just in different states but different venues. Funny is funny, but there are differences anywhere you go – even performing in Manhattan vs. Brooklyn. It can also depend on whether you’re performing at a club vs. a bar, for older crowds vs. younger ones, smaller crowds vs. larger crowds.

I love New York audiences because they’re open-minded and you can pretty much say anything. Everyone in the audience (here in NY) grew up in a different place, so people are very open to different types of comedy.

You can get a completely different reaction to something in a small town which is fine too, because as a comic it’s best to get used to all audiences.

What subjects do you favor/find funny and have these changed over the years?

When I first started standup I got most of my material from obvious topics (“write about what you know”)….like being tall or having a Spanish mother.

I might talk a little more about what’s going on in my life now. Hopefully I’ve become a little more self-aware so I might dive into more psychological stuff or what I heard someone say on the train and analyze that.

I still get material from visiting my family in Spain (or talking to my nieces – what kids say is always funny).

Instead of leaving a topic after getting a joke or two, I try to stay with it and see what else I can pull from it. Sometimes there’s nothing else and sometimes you can go a little deeper. A lot of times it just depends on what’s going on in my life at that time.

As you write your own material where do you come up with the best?

It can happen anywhere. I might force myself to sit at Starbucks and something will occur to me that I think has potential, or I’ll be on the train on the way to a show and it just hits me there. Sometimes as I’m falling asleep I’ll think of something funny and I’ll have to get up because I know I won’t remember it the next day.

Everyone has their own method.

I usually carry a little notebook but now with technology the way it is, you can just write a new joke idea into your phone or record it. Sometimes I’ll come up with a great punchline but I have no set up, so I keep the joke idea until I can find a good home for it.

Who are some of your comedy favorites?

Dave Attell, Louis CK, Todd Barry, Bill Burr, Nick Griffin, Judy Gold, Wendy Liebman. There are others but those come to mind now.

What do you do to wake up an audience that stares back at you and doesn’t laugh?

Sometimes you can’t do anything. It doesn’t mean they’re not enjoying the show – they might just not want to laugh (and stand out) if no one else is laughing.

Sometimes you just have to call them on it. I don’t want to insult them for not laughing, but I might just tease them a little to see what I can do to get them to wake up. It’s very strange to watch a quiet audience and after the show they’ll tell you how much fun they had or how much they enjoyed you.

Sometimes they will hate you. It happens. (Then I spend the rest of my time on stage wondering where I lost them.) I think it’s best to stay in the present, finish your set and know that it happens- you just can’t make every single audience laugh hysterically every single time. Hopefully if it’s a weak show you didn’t invite anyone you know.

Have you been surprised by the energetic, happy reaction to your standup from a group or audience?

Absolutely. Just like I’ve been surprised by a negative reaction by a certain group.  You never know how anyone is going to react to you, so it’s best not to make any assumptions. You might go up after someone who bombs and the audience loves you, or the comic ahead of you killed and you totally lose them.

Sometimes I can tell just by the look on their faces when I reach the stage that it’s not going to be good. But I try to let that go because a lot of times it’s that assumption that will be the cause of the reaction I get.

I might do a show in one venue and kill and go to a different venue in the same city and they think I’m just awful. But that’s why being a comic is so fun — every show is different.

How long have you been doing standup?

For 10 years. I stopped after 5 years because I was tired of it. I burned out, and I wasn’t sure if I was doing it because I’d started something and just didn’t know what else to do, and that scared me. I wanted to make sure I was doing it because I loved it.

About a year later I realized I did want to pursue it, long term, and that if I was going to do it I was going to do it 100%.

You are from Virginia and started out as an actress and when you came to NYC you decided to try stand up. How did your parents react? Did you do something before acting? What was your major?

I graduated from The College of William & Mary with a psychology degree. I changed my major so many times that by the time I had to pick a major, I’d taken so many psychology classes I just went with that.

Then I worked at a bank after college and took a few acting classes in Virginia. I moved to NY because I wanted to pursue acting.

My parents weren’t thrilled but hoped that whatever day job I picked up to pay the rent in NY would lead to some major career. I never once thought I’d pursue stand up comedy, but once I was up in NY and saw how big the comedy scene was, I decided to try it. I still wasn’t thinking I’d be a comedian – I just thought I might write for one.

I knew I was shy and I just couldn’t imagine bombing on stage – I’ve always been easily embarrassed. I took a 3-day “comedy course” at the Learning Annex, where we had to perform for 5 minutes at a club. I told the teacher I wouldn’t, but the day of the performance I tried it for 2 1/2 minutes (that’s all the material I had prepared) and I knew then that I was going to pursue comedy. For the next 7-8 years my parents tried to get me to go to grad school but were unsuccessful. They gave up trying just a few years ago.

You can see Carmen in person at the Improv Boston for a CD taping on October 2nd , or check out her web series,, and on this Comedy TV clip.

Who are some of your favorite comedians? Do you have questions for Carmen?


Service of What Were They Thinking?

Monday, April 30th, 2012

I’ve written many posts that illustrate business behavior or decisions that deserve this reaction. Recently I’ve noticed a rash of examples that inspired me to revisit the question.

Humor Doesn’t Always Translate

I saw a scarf manufactured by a well known Italian fashion brand. Prominently printed along an edge in fancy script were the words “cheap & chic.” European or rich person’s humor, perhaps? At $80, the scarf represented the couture brand’s bargain basement price point. In spite of the pretty pattern and colors, the words translated to “what were they thinking?” Can you imagine the reaction of the recipient of such a gift?

My Stars

Another well known apparel brand, this one with retail stores of the same name, sells a tee-shirt with a yellow star reminiscent of the symbol Jews had to wear in Nazi Germany. Wonder what the stylist-and his/her boss-had in mind? One of the hosts of the WABC radio program “Religion on the Line” was not amused.

You Can’t Have That

Leafing through the pages of a once-favorite decorating magazine, I stopped at the image of a bright red and white bedroom ensemble. Most of the photo captions on the page were obscured by the dropout type on dark background. Centrally placed in the largest type on a white background I read: “____[name of store] no longer stocks this toile headboard, but the company still sells the matching dust ruffle.”

I couldn’t see the dust ruffle in the photo [though a friend said he could see a little bit of it]. The coordinating floral comforter took up most of the image but there was no mention of it.

Pay Your Debts

And then there was the Secret Service person who didn’t pay his Columbian prostitute. Now was that the time to be cheap?

Race to Play

On, Christopher Baxter wrote “N.J. state troopers face probe for ‘Death Race 2012’ down Parkway to AC.” According to Baxter, two troopers “escorted a caravan of luxury sports cars at speeds in excess of 100 mph down the Garden State Parkway to Atlantic City last month.” Baxter quoted one of two witnesses, Wayne Gantt, who complained to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority: “I had the great pleasure today of nearly being killed by, not one, but two, Lamborghinis traveling in excess of 110 mph in a (New Jersey State Police) escorted ‘caravan’ of approximately 30 exotic vehicles all traveling well over 100 mph.” What a precedent for the next time a state trooper tries to ticket a driver for going 75 mph in a 65 mph zone.

Guess the police and the sports car drivers don’t remember how former NJ Governor Corzine was almost killed when he urged his chauffeur to travel at 90+ mph down a turnpike and the car smashed into something. Speed must be in the air in that state.

Can you explain what these people were thinking or add other examples to the list?

Service of Headlines

Monday, August 31st, 2009

A clever headline is memorable and if it doesn’t lead you into a story, it will make you smile or think twice. What fun it would be to write headlines for a living!

The New York Post is the winner in this list of my favorites and those of friends/followers of this blog.

Editor and writer Jim Roper’s choice is “Headless Body in Topless Bar,” which, I learned, is the title of a book of headlines by New York Post staff. Other juicy ones in the book:

Lady is a Trump

Axis of Weasel

Holy Shiite

Recently this paper reported on yet another NJ political scandal that also involved some rabbis. The headline: “Kosher Nostra.” “Tiger Tamed,” a front pager, announced Y E Yang’s winning the PGA in August in an upset over Tiger Woods. And “Ex-con-stitutional” was how the paper drew you into news of a research center run by ex convicts.

PR colleague Sharon Clancy Lienau shared “Ears Pierced While You Wait.” [This reminded me not of a headline, but of a greasy spoon on the upper west side of Manhattan called “Eat and Run.”] founder and editor, Polly Blitzer, wrote an article for Family Circle which she called, “Take 2 and call me in the morgue.” She covered the TV ads that claim to cure you of an ailment and simultaneously warn you of astronomical potential side effects.

Bambe Levine, Bambe Levine public relations remembers “Ford to City Drop Dead.” The New York Daily News  ran it in 1974 when the President refused to bail out the city.

If you know some poignant or memorable headlines, please share!

Service of Humor

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

Stressed or antsy? Nothing beats a deep-dish guffaw. A great big laugh is a blessing. I’ve seen an apt quip or clever play on words–when the humor isn’t mean–turn the tide of a meeting that’s swimming towards nasty.

An exhibit, “On the Money, Cartoons for the New Yorker,” proves that great cartoons, like literature, theatre and movies, are evergreen. Featuring cartoons from 1927-1997, it’s at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York, [through May 24, 2009].

Visitors laugh about money-imagine!-and at the same clever images and captions that made others smile during the Depression and in good times. Strangers chat comfortably with one another. It’s a beautiful thing.

Where have you seen humor at work?

In his wonderful thank you note, Keller Gordon drew a cartoon of a boy who is thinking, "Please Be a Hat!"

In his wonderful thank you note, Keller Gordon drew a cartoon of a boy who is thinking, “Please Be a Hat!”

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